For his mixed media assemblage, Koh-i-Noor (2005) Hew Locke (Scottish, born 1959) arranged thousands of cheap plastic toys and trinkets — disposable products of the new global economy — into one edition of a series of portraits of Queen Elizabeth II (entitled the House of Windsor Series), one of which was among the most extraordinary works in the Museum’s exhibition, Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art (2007). Locke, born in Scotland but raised in Guyana, created these works in response to ethnic tensions within contemporary British society, often growing out of Great Britain’s colonial history, with that history now brought home to Britain.
The title of this Silver work from the portrait series refers to the Koh-i-Noor (“Mountain of Light”) diamond, once the largest in the world. Mined several thousand years ago, this uncut Indian treasure passed through the hands of many regional rulers and was likely cut during the seventeenth century, before ultimately being seized by Britain in 1849 in the name of Queen Victoria. The series also includes a Golden sculpture entitled El Dorado, and a Black edition entitled Black Queen.